50 Years of Independent Living: Florida

Published April 6, 2022

Beth Meyer has been part of the Independent Living Movement for as long as she can remember. Before she worked throughout Florida, before she took up her current position as the Executive Director of the Florida Independent Living Council, it was her great grandmother’s sister that became her impetus to get involved. Suffering from what would now be known as post-partum depression, Meyer’s great-great-aunt would spend more than fifty years in Florida’s state mental health institution, Florida State Hospital – known locally as Chattahoochee. She would be institutionalized from the age of 25 until her death despite her father, a doctor, working to get her released.

“She died right before I was born,” Meyer says, “she'd missed everything, you know, she missed everything. The telephone, any type of rights that were beginning to be brought forward and I just saw my great grandmother, who was really grieving for her sister's life, and so I would hear a lot of the stories.”

Meyer also inherited the correspondence between her family and the institution, something that her children would continue to do school projects on as they researched what it was like to be institutionalized at the turn of the century. As Meyer says, even though the current movement has its challenges, that time involved, “probably the most horrific atrocities which fed the movement of people having control and rights.”

Meyer stayed involved, through college and worked at Centers for Independent Living in Jacksonville as well as serving as Chief of Disabled Services and ADA Coordinator for the City of Jacksonville. She took up her post at FILC in 2018.

Challenges unique to Florida

Within the myriad of systems that make up the American Independent Living structure, state-wide planning commissions track the needs of consumers and create state-wide plans. For Florida, that means priorities like improving disabled youth’s quality of life, the existence of adequate funding for CILs, providing “actionable feedback” to those in the Independent Living network, and increasing disaster preparedness for those with disabilities. Meyer says that the focus on emergency procedures when a hurricane hits land is a vital one.

“People in other parts of the country don't understand [is] It's similar to a fire, it's all gone. Right, it's like all gone . . . So we have to get satellite phones, and we have to understand what the needs are, during the building collapse in Miami, people lost all of their durable medical equipment and we had to rely on our durable medical equipment being fluid, so we could move it around the state quickly."

Like in many other states, Florida’s Independent Living Centers struggle with public systems, like accessible transit, that can’t cross county lines. Meanwhile, because there are 67 counties and only 15 centers – each with a mix of rural and urban clients – Meyer says that there’s a higher focus on collaboration in Florida, meaning that CILs that have a Victim’s Service Advocate and can provide technology, sometimes supporting smaller CILs with those services.

Another example came during Hurricane Michael. Instead of only the centers in affected areas shouldering the load, others from across the state called clients and coordinated services prior to the storm hitting.

Barriers to housing

Another area Meyer is focused on is housing, which she says is also heavily affected when a storm rolls through. This is an even bigger concern when housing is destroyed that belonged to those on housing benefits.

"When the hurricane comes and wipes those down, a developer comes over and says, ‘I will give you this much money for this property now that everything has been cleared off of it.’ And those people sell that. And so what we see is a housing market that is at a crisis that's really created many times by storms, because new buildings can come up, those new buildings are not affordable housing.”

The resulting effect is that disabled people are being forced more and more into rural areas, where services are not as available and supports are harder to access. Another concern Meyer has is that the core services of a CIL are not as clear as they appear at first glance. It’s an issue she’s brought forward with national organizations.

“Not only is it the five core services, but then you have to look at what does that mean? What do transition and diversion mean? Does that mean transition and diversion and housing, youth, the correction centers, high school, a nursing home transition or hospital to home transition?”

Meyer says that capacity is highly strained by the fact that different jobs within the same core service require radically different skill sets and that funding needs to be secured in order for the centers to function at their best. This comes even as some CILs in the state provide specialized programs related to Deaf Services and accessible building projects.

If you’d like to see the state plan Independent Living for your state you can find them on the Administration for Community Living website. We’ll be profiling more state plans throughout the year during our series on Independent Living.

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